Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Fall




My friend Maia Une Envie de Sel has suggested this film to me for some time. I finally saw it last night. It is a visual feast of unparallel proportions and a rarity because it is also married to a terrific character driven script. Below is a review from the year it came out:

Written by Chris Pandolfi:

I remember the days when I had stories read to me. I remember how it made me feel. Me and about twenty other kids would gather at the teacher's feet, and I would actually imagine the story unfolding as she read aloud. I think we all have those memories buried somewhere within, those wonderful moments when the spoken word transcends mere speech and becomes a definite vision. Tarsem's "The Fall" works in much the same way, not only for the characters, but also for the audience; reality and fantasy are interchangeable, not separate. People from our world appear in the story, and characters in the story are broadly drawn from the people in our world. It's much like the whimsical dreamscape of "The Wizard of Oz," in which Dorothy awakens in Kansas and realizes that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Wizard were actually people she knew, therefore with her the entire journey.

But the dreamscape of "The Fall" is much more compelling than anything conjured out of whimsy. It's a character-driven fantasy that uses both its brain and its heart, with a story so compelling it doesn't let us escape. We don't much want to, especially if we hold true to the power of imagination and the hope of redemption. Paradoxically, it takes the imperfections of human existence to reach these perfect ideas; the characters of this film are flawed and vulnerable, far from a series of walking clichés. Many are manipulative and selfish. The main character is innocent, but at age five, she's also incredibly naïve. She sees and hears everything going on around her, and while she doesn't understand most of it, you can tell that she's trying to. Her name is Alexandria, and she's played by Catinca Untaru--she was so receptive to the material that I never once believed she was acting. She was living it.

Taking place in 1920s-era Los Angeles, "The Fall" actually opens with the aftermath of a bad fall, and we see a man and a horse pulled from a lake, having tumbled off a railroad bridge. Soon after, we meet little Alexandria, an immigrant worker hospitalized after breaking her arm picking oranges. Always with a box full of things she likes, she travels the hallways and wings of the hospital, mentally gathering the sights and sounds. One day, she wanders onto a lower floor and meets Roy Walker (Lee Pace), a bedridden, emotionally broken Hollywood stuntman; after some initial banter, Roy begins telling Alexandria an epic story of five men seeking revenge.

Over the course of the film, we see that the characters of Roy's story are reflections of the people in or around the hospital: a one-legged actor becomes Luigi (Robin Smith), a master of explosives; an orderly becomes Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), a naturalist who travels with a monkey, searching for an elusive breed of butterfly; the hospital's ice delivery man becomes Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), a former slave; an orange picker becomes the Indian (Jeetu Verma), who lost his intended so horribly, he vowed to never stare at another woman; Alexandria's dead father (Emil Hostina) initially becomes the Masked Bandit, but he's replaced by Roy when Alexandria says her father shouldn't be in the story. With the help of a tree-dwelling mystic (Julian Bleech), the five bandits journey across exotic lands to find the ruthless Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone), drawn from the hospital's Dr. Sinclair.

As the story progresses, we quickly realize that the characters aren't the only things mirrored from reality--the entire plot is a stylized reinterpretation of Roy's recent life. To say more would give too much away, but here are a few things to consider: (1) Roy periodically pauses the story and has Alexandria steal medicine for him; (2) he closes his eyes at one point and tries to guess which of his toes she's holding on to, and we're not sure if she tells him a lie; (3) he gets increasingly unwilling to see the story through to the end. Even when Roy's situation is finally explained, we still wonder what would possess him to do the things he does. For him, telling Alexandria a story is not his way of escaping into fantasy, but of gaining the upper hand. And yet we deeply care for him; we believe that a decent soul lies beneath the anguish, waiting for the right time to emerge.

At the same time, we're taken aback when Alexandria wishes to never get better. She seems to have formed a special bond with Roy, most likely because she doesn't know she's being manipulated. She probably doesn't even know what manipulation is; she does what she's asked without stopping to consider why she's doing it. With her, it's not about being sneaky but about experiencing life, and this is despite the limitations of young age and the confines of hospital walls. Keep in mind that we never see her playing with the other children in the pediatric ward; we suspect that she imagines things at a much more mature level, considering how well developed her communication skills are. She doesn't always have the words, but she somehow finds a way to get her point across. This kind of character development is rarely seen in today's movies; most are bogged down by predictable plotlines and mass-produced special effects. "The Fall" is a refreshing exception to the rule--a visual masterstroke with an engrossing character-driven plot. It's definitely one of the year's best films.

6 comments:

Poetikat said...

Oh, this sounds definitely like a film my husband and I would enjoy. Thanks for such a rich review!
Absolutely love that header photo.

The Wanderers' Daughter said...

So glad you enjoyed it - I knew you would!

pve design said...

It is on my list to see - Thanks!
Appreciate your kind comments on Maia's interview.
pve

Renee said...

This looks awesome and now I must see it.

xoxox

Juniper said...

Wow- those photos are incredible! I so hope I can find this film here! It looks worth watching.

lightning in a bottle said...

you like this movie about as much as i did!

amazing to look at...

http://bottlinglightning.blogspot.com/2008/12/be-good-bandit.html

p.s. i also see you're an alice in wonderland fan too :)